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August 12, 2014

Navigating physical streets and bureaucratic dialogues

by Zoya Puri

After the setback of last week’s attempt at generating way finding clues within the village, we took a step back to evaluate what were the key issues important to us, the children and Adhyayan, and what strategies could we realistically implement in our limited time without unnecessarily antagonizing the community.

All these past weeks of interactions with the community and specially the kids, it’s become clear that Adhyayan, the organization and the space holds a special place for them. They like to spend their maximum time after school within its environment. With the lack of recreational public spaces in the community, this offers a safe and comfortable environment for them to hang out.
We decided to try reinforcing its presence as the ‘heart’ of the children and the community. This is also helped by its physical location, though deep within the neighborhood, but at a prominent square.

Though, being old, organically grown communities, there mostly exists a mixed land use. However there are many lanes deep within the village, which are purely residential. This led to the question of distinguishing between the public and the private, how deep within the community would they like outsiders to enter. Thus a decision to work on the movement through the streets having mostly commercial ventures and institutions was made.

We tried to delineate the streets throughout the community through color.
There are 5 different entrances into the community, each from a prominent point on the periphery of the neighborhood like a metro station, next to major city school, and near the surrounding residential communities offering a different meandering path to reach the small square “choti chawk” at which Adhyayan is situated. Some of these streets are lined with commercial ventures; another passes through the neighborhood cow stable, while the others are residential lanes. I decided to highlight these different paths with different colors to make color-coded way-finding clues. The younger kids had been feeling a big left out these past few days when we were working on the community map, and I thought it would be a good idea to get them involved in this project. We started hand printing the walls of these different streets, with each path being distinguishable by its own color.

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It was really interesting to witness the residents’ reactions to a bunch of kids parading up and down the lanes hand printing different surfaces. Even more interesting was the dialogues that this initiated. Many adults have started recognizing me as the ‘teacher’ to their children at Adhyayan or from our weekly community meeting and take whatever we seem to bring to their streetscape in a positive light. Many times we as designers come up notions of how certain things should be or how they should be read by the others without realizing that not everyone is so intuitively immersed in design thinking. It was a reading of the markers’ seeming success that most people’s immediate response to our “we’re just hand printing these streets” was “Oh! To make different lanes distinguishing by color? That would make giving directions so much easier!”

From this week, a few volunteers from the neighboring college who want to work with Adhyayan on this “art” project join us. Usually whenever an outsider comes to the NGO (including myself), one of the kids always comes out to one of the entrances to guide us in, it even took me a couple of days to find my way in one go. To test out our markers, instead of going to receive the volunteers, we’ve been telling them to follow a particular color depending on where they inform us that they’re entering from and no one seems to have got lost so far! (Or maybe most people just have a better sense of direction than me)

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As a possible critique of this experiment and on further development, we’re toying with the idea of adding the NGO’s logo or something, as I’m still not convinced about its success or access to an accidental outsider or someone who isn’t invited in. I’m hoping that our next step of installing installations and murals as “attractors” in lanes that seem more narrow or unfriendly might affect the general foot traffic in the village.

 

Though we’ve been working our hardest at making the streets more “navigable” the daunting problem of the excessive trash on the streets would deter anyone, outsider or otherwise to wish to traverse the lanes of the village. Though we clean all the areas where we make an intervention, its not a sustainable step as the it requires a multi-tiered addressal from concerned government departments and conscious efforts by the residents. While we are targeting the community awareness through our weekly meetings and personal interactions, we’ve been having meetings with the sub-departments of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) in the past weeks. This Tuesday after weeks of attempts, we finally managed to hold a meeting with the Chancellor for the zone within which our neighborhood lies along with his officials to discuss the policy changes that need to be implemented for communities like these urban villages. Communities, whose narrow streets do not allow for larger municipal trucks to operate in and who require a greater attention by the personal working with smaller equipment and on foot. This also, allowed us to create a bridge of dialogue between the community and the authorities that had been lacking and made the residents take our work and us in their community in a more serious light.

Though seemingly a promising series of conversation, existing as a part of the (in)famous Indian bureaucracy, we will need to maintain constant pressure on the MCD, the scope of which will extend way beyond my stay with Adhyayan to see a concrete impact. However, getting the dialogue started was a huge step and I will make sure to maintain the pressure for however long I can.

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– Zoya

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